No Longer At Ease
How we cite our quotes:
They went in the car and made for the jeweler's shop in Kingsway and bought a twenty-pound ring….
"What about a Bible?" Clara asked.
"To go with the ring. Don't you know that?"
Obi didn't know that. They went over to the C.M.S. Bookshop and paid for a handsome little Bible with a zip. (7.80-84)
Though Obi and Clara are now engaged in the European way, it is not an engagement that is recognized in Igbo culture. A marriage isn't recognized in Igbo culture until the bride-price is arranged. The bride-price is an arrangement of goodwill that links the two families, and transfers the bride's reproductive capacities from her father's lineage to the husband's lineage.
"By the way, we are now engaged. I gave her a ring this afternoon."
"Very good," said Joseph bitterly. He thought for a while and then asked: "Are you going to marry the English way or are you going to ask your people to approach her people according to custom?"
"I don't know yet. It depends on what my father says."
"Did you tell him about it during your visit?"
"No, because I hadn't decided then."
"He will not agree to it," said Joseph. "Tell anyone that I said so."
"I can handle them," said Obi, "especially my mother."
"Look at me, Obi." Joseph invariably asked people to look at him. "What you are going to do concerns not only yourself but your whole family and future generations. If one finger brings oil it soils the others. In future, when we are all civilized, anybody may marry anybody. But that time has not come. We of this generation are only pioneers." (7.97-104)
Joseph insists that marrying an osu is like staining a shirt with oil. It is not just the little bit of cloth that is ruined; the entire shirt is tainted. Though Obi would like to change the customs, the time has not arrived for that. If he persists and marries Clara, it will only bring grief to himself, his family, and his children.
"We are Christians," he [Isaac] said. "But that is no reason to marry an osu."
"The Bible says that in Christ there are no bond or free."
"My son," said Okonkwo, "I understand what you say. But this thing is deeper than you think."
"Osu is like leprosy in the minds of our people. I beg of you, my son, not to bring the mark of shame and of leprosy into your family. If you do, your children and your children's children unto the third and fourth generations will curse your memory. It is not for myself I speak; my days are few. You will bring sorrow on your head and on the heads of your children. Who will marry your daughters? Whose daughters will your sons marry? Think of that, my son. We are Christians, but we cannot marry our own daughters." (14. 33-35;38)
Though Isaac Okonkwo understands Obi's arguments that there should not be a class of citizens marked as untouchables, he says that their family must live within the larger society. And within the larger society, there is this class of untouchables. Religious, philosophical, and logical arguments have their place, but they cannot change larger society.